Begrudgingly, I scrub the dreams from eyes and put on my worn-out, beaten-up, good-for-almost-nothing sneakers. We had plans to go running together for a while now. Nevertheless, I didn’t feel ready when Time gently shook me from my sleep to run through the streets of our town. So, we begin slow, side-by-side and shoulder-to shoulder. The sun preparing its rise, cheekily tickles our faces. With elongated strides, our hearts beat powerfully together. Eventually, her body, beautiful and electric, forges forward. Once in sync, we are now separated, she always one step ahead. Arms outstretched, I reach, but she is out of grasp. I try to speak but cannot find my voice between sharp intakes of air and heavy breathing. Suddenly, she stops, but I am moving too fast to slow down. I pass her and whip my head to keep her in sight. She motions to go ahead. I run towards the rising sun, keeping her in my mind, my dream-filled eyes, and my worn-out, beat-up, good-for-nothing sneakers. The ground begins to shake with every step and I watch myself grow infinitely larger. I race forth into the unknown but I am not afraid…Half-past five! Half-past five! Woodland alarms are wailing outside my cabin. Contemplating a few more hours of precious sleep, I huddle down for a last warm moment. Today is the day I trade in my yellow, rubber gloves and disinfecting soaps for fresh bell peppers and garden-picked tomatoes. I dress rapidly to conserve my night heat and head down the blueberry-lined pathway to the kitchen. I nervously glance at the empty dining hall, which will soon be filled with over a hundred hungry bellies waiting to consume the food that I will make. What did I myself into? A yellow sticky note greets me at the entrance to the kitchen. “Emme- There’s been a family emergency. I cannot come into work this morning. I have alerted other staff to come help you, but I have not received any word back. I’m so sorry, but I believe in you.” I have only been doing this two weeks and my source of strength, the head cook, was gone. It was in this moment that I was forced to make a choice about what kind of person I would be. Honestly, I felt like crying but I decided to confront my anxiety and leave my worries about my comfort zone behind. There is something really compelling about being in a kitchen. Something to being that free and that afraid, of knowing that, no matter how many times I make a recipe, the version I was about to make would be shared in just that way, only once. It is one of the rawest challenges I’ve ever faced. Spending the rest of the summer, working up the courage to not only cook but experiment, I realized I spent much of my time in high school with my eyes closed. That time provided me structure and guidance but my head was stuck in a textbook, cramming facts. With cooking, I was forced to open my eyes-I needed to soak up experiences, the world, and learn from the people around me. My gap year thus far has pushed my boundaries and limits, maturing my evolution from adolescent to adult. In shifting from observant spectator to being front and center, I quickly found confidence and perspective. I can no longer sit down to a meal without imagining the plants on my plate as seeds or wonder how many hands brought my meal to the table. This year I’m not studying for AP tests or filing paperwork. I’m not bogged down by repetition or bitter and boring realities. I get to feed hungry bellies, protest unjust laws, read the classics, and make people smile. I’m taking my year on, not off.